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Accident takes leg, but not his spirit

Andy Burton was on his way to work at the benefit concert for Sports Club owner Kevin Smith on the morning of June 12 when his motorcycle went out from underneath him on River Road north of Hudson.

"To be honest with you, I don't know how I crashed," Burton said from his parents' home in Hammond on Monday. "All I know is I came up over a hill and there was something in the road. I swerved around it, and my front end shook and dumped the bike in the road."

Burton sailed into the ditch and slid for 250 feet, then caromed off a tree and into a steel driveway culvert that sliced his right leg off below the knee. The rest of his body flipped over the driveway and flew another 80 feet to where he landed.

A neighbor heard the collision, called 911, and came to administer first aid. Meanwhile, two passing motorists noticed the seat of Burton's motorcycle and a hat lying in the road. Thinking it was odd, they each turned around at the next intersection and came back to find Burton lying in the ditch, bleeding profusely from the stub of his right leg.

Someone produced a rubber tie-down strap and used it as a tourniquet to slow the flow of blood from Burton's severed leg. The rescuers also took off their shirts and used them to apply pressure to the wound.

The lower part of the leg was found 13 feet inside the culvert.

Remarkably, Burton, who was wearing a helmet, remained conscious until ambulance workers sedated him on the ride to Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

His left ankle was crushed, with fractures in 13 places. He also had two fractured vertebrae, a broken tailbone, one broken finger and one dislocated finger. He needed skin grafts on four areas of his body.

He underwent eight surgeries during his 31-day stay in the Trauma Unit at Regions.

All of that care left Burton with approximately $300,000 in medical bills - and climbing. His medication alone costs about $2,000 a month.

As a union ironworker with Local 512 out of St. Paul, Burton has good health insurance, but there are still deductibles and other expenses to pay, including that of a prosthetic leg he expects to get this week.

Now friends and family members are holding a fund-raiser for him. It's set for 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday at The Doll House bar and grill in Hammond. Seven groups, including local favorite Gription and a nine-piece Mexican band, will perform throughout the afternoon and evening. Jeff Johnson of Mars Musical Adventures Productions in Hudson is lining up the entertainment, like he did to help Kevin Smith cover some of the medical expenses resulting from his stroke.

Friends and family members have solicited 300 items and gift certificates that will be raffled off or sold in a silent auction. The Doll House will offer food and drink specials.

Burton said he's expecting a good turnout for the event. He plans to be there from start to finish.

"It should be a really good time," he said.

A new outlook

"It's kind of crazy that I was going to a benefit and ended up getting hurt myself," said Burton.

His whole family, parents Greg and Cherie, brother Paul and sister Jenny, had volunteered to help out at the fund-raiser. Jenny works at the Sports Club in downtown Hudson.

His own injuries have given Burton new compassion for others in need, and appreciation for the Good Samaritans who come to their aid.

"All the people that stepped up and really helped me out, especially my family, that's definitely opened my eyes in that respect," he said.

Now he knows what it's like to be handicapped and in a wheelchair.

"I'm lucky enough that I eventually will get up and out of this wheelchair, and not have to be stuck in it for the rest of my life."

His parents moved from their long-time home in North Hudson to a new house in Hammond the week of Burton's accident. He's been staying with them since being released from the hospital in mid-July.

His grandmother Lois Dokken came from Arizona to care for him while Greg, a house painter, and Cherie are at work during the day. Before the accident, Burton had his own place on River Road, about a half-mile from where it happened.

The 25-year-old Burton is a 1998 graduate of Hudson High School. He had completed two years of a three-year apprenticeship with ironworkers Local 512 in St. Paul when he was injured.

He'll have to find a new career, he said, but hasn't decided what it will be. He's considering going back to college to earn a four-year degree. After high school, he studied business and marketing at Inver Hills Community College for two years.

"Ideally, I'd like to stay in the construction field, because that's what I've done every since I left high school," he said. "I know I want to an entrepreneur."

It's ironic that accident has given him the opportunity to rethink his career path, he said. He'll be able to collect disability pay should he decide to return to college.

"Once you get tied up in a career, you feel like you can't turn around and leave it," he said. "You feel like you're walking away from too much. With my job, I was traveling and driving a lot, so there would have been no way for me to attempt to go back to school if I wanted to."

Burton was looking forward to getting his prosthetic leg and his doctor's clearance to put weight on his left leg again.

"I'm going to start walking pretty quick," he said.

"I'm staying pretty positive about all this. I know it's a big waiting game. As long as I get through it, I'll be fine. I'm a pretty strong-willed person."

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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